Overview

The meningitis ACWY (MenACWY) vaccine helps protect against meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning) caused by 4 groups of meningococcal bacteria A, C, W and Y.

The MenACWY vaccine's routinely offered to all young people who are in S3 (around 14 years of age) at school. Young people who are in S4-S6 and missed the opportunity to get immunised last year may also get the vaccine at school this year.

The MenACWY vaccine's replaced the MenC vaccine that was previously used in the routine teenage immunisation programme in S3.

What causes meningitis and septicaemia?

Meningococcal bacteria are significant causes of meningitis and septicaemia. There are 5 main groups of meningococcal bacteria that can cause meningitis and septicaemia – A, B, C, W and Y.

Meningococcal bacteria live in the throats of about 25% of young people without causing any problems at all. The bacteria can spread to other people through coughing, sneezing or kissing. The MenACWY programme's targeting young people because of the higher risk of the bacteria spreading among young people of the same age.

What's meningitis?

Meningitis is inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. This causes pressure on the brain resulting in symptoms like:

  • severe headache
  • stiff neck
  • dislike of bright light
  • drowsiness
  • convulsions/fits

Meningitis can progress very rapidly and can lead to:

  • deafness
  • blindness
  • epilepsy
  • learning difficulties

It can even lead to death.

More about meningitis

What's septicaemia (blood poisoning)?

Septicaemia (blood poisoning) is a serious, life-threatening infection that gets worse very quickly and the risk of death is higher compared with meningitis.

The signs of cold hands and feet, pale skin, vomiting and being very sleepy or difficult to wake can come on quickly.

More about meningitis and septicaemia

Who's eligible for the vaccine?

Since 2009, there's been a year-on-year increase in the number of cases of meningococcal W (MenW) infection in the UK. You're more at risk of getting meningitis and septicaemia from MenW as a teenager or young adult.

The MenACWY vaccine's offered to all young people in S3 at school. Young people in S4-S6 who missed the opportunity to get immunised may get the vaccine at school this year.

The vaccine

The MenACWY vaccine helps to protect against meningitis and septicaemia caused by 4 groups of meningococcal bacteria (A, C, W and Y). It's given to young people in S3 at school as an injection.

Which vaccines are used?

The following vaccines are routinely used in Scotland:

How effective is the vaccine?

The MenACWY vaccine's highly effective against serious infections caused by 4 different meningococcal groups (A, C, W and Y).

Why do I need to get the vaccine?

You've a higher risk of getting meningococcal disease because of your age. You need to get immunised to protect yourself as well as to protect others around you.

You may have previously had a MenC vaccine to protect you against meningococcal C infection, but this won't protect you against MenW. Having the MenACWY vaccine after getting the MenC vaccine won't only give you better protection against MenC infection, but will also protect you against the other 3 meningococcal groups (A, W and Y).

Do I need parental consent?

You and your parents, or carer, should discuss the information before agreeing to have the immunisation. Parental agreement's always advised, although it isn’t always necessary. If you or your parents have any questions about having the immunisation, you can talk to your practice nurse or GP if you feel you need more information about any aspect of the immunisation programme.

How do we know the vaccine's safe?

All medicines (including vaccines) are tested for safety and effectiveness by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The vaccine meets the high safety standards required for it to be used in the UK and other European countries. The vaccine has been given to millions of people worldwide.

Once they're in use, the safety of vaccines continues to be monitored by the MHRA.

Where and when to get it

You'll get the MenACWY vaccine at school from January 2019.

When will I be immunised?

You’ll be offered the vaccine when you’re in S3 (around 14 years of age) at school. Young people who are in S4-S6 and missed the opportunity to get immunised last year may also get the vaccine at school this year. Look out for the letter that'll be sent to you.

What if I’m a university fresher?

Due to the success of the MenACWY programme offered to all 14-18 year olds in Scotland during 2015/16, the majority of Scottish entrants to university will have already been immunised and therefore there isn't a need for a specific freshers programme this year in Scotland.

Scottish university entrants starting university this Autumn and who missed the opportunity to get the vaccine last year should contact their GP practice, who'll advise them if it’s clinically appropriate for their particular circumstances.

Unvaccinated students coming from other parts of the UK to study in Scotland should make sure they get the vaccine before they travel to Scotland as there’s no guarantee the MenACWY vaccine will be available at Scottish university health centres and GP practices.

After the vaccine

After having the vaccine there may be side effects, but these are usually mild.

What are the common side effects?

The most common side effects of the meningitis ACWY (MenACWY) vaccine for young people are:

  • redness
  • hardening and itching at the injection site
  • headache
  • nausea
  • fatigue

If you feel unwell at any time after getting immunised, you should contact your GP. If you're worried, trust your instincts. Speak to your GP or phone the 111 service.

Phone your GP immediately if, at any time, you have a temperature of 39°C or above, or have a fit. If your GP practice is closed, phone the 111 service immediately.

Read more about the common side effects of immunisations that might occur in young people.

Where can I report suspected side effects?

You can report suspected side effects of vaccines and medicines through the Yellow Card Scheme.

This can be done by:

  • visiting the Yellow Card Scheme website
  • phoning the free Yellow Card hotline on 0808 100 3352 (available Monday to Friday, 10.00am to 2.00pm)

Further information

If you’re unsure about anything, or have any questions about the MenACWY vaccine, phone:

Immunisation leaflet

NHS Health Scotland has produced a leaflet explaining routine teenage immunisations in Scotland including the MenACWY vaccine, why it's offered and when it's given.

This leaflet's also available in Easy Read English and other languages - including Polish, Simplified Chinese and Urdu.

A guide to teenage immunisations

Audio leaflet

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